Thursday, 10 July 2014

In honour of Berthelt

The names 19th-century manufacturers gave to the writing instruments they produced doubled up as marketing tools: the Lancet, the Waverley, the Pickwick, the Flying Scotsman, the Crystal Palace and the Legal pen nibs were thus named to appeal to certain sections of the steel pen consuming population. It was not unknown for pencils to be given names either. Hardtmuth's Koh-I-Noor comes to mind, for instance, and its tapping into the images of the legendary diamond and the exotic Orient. 

Checking out Brand Name Pencil's comprehensive collection of Johann Fabers it is obvious that the Bavarian manufacturer could not resist pencil name giving either: there are Apollos, Jupiters, Alligators and Kangaroos, Golden Rods, Lotuses and Kosmographs, a Sphinx, a Taj Mahal and a Telefon. And then out of Palimpsest's pencil collection box comes the "Berthelt": a cylindrical pencil with a red glossy body and embossed silver lettering with Johann Faber printed in capitals and Berthelt in script inside quotation marks. 

Was this pencil intended to appeal to teachers? According to Stadtwiki Dresden Friedrich August Berthelt (1813-1896) was a teacher, school principal and city councillor in Dresden who  made great contributions to the German elementary school system and founded the German Teachers Association. He looks strict and sour with his hair plastered on top of his bony head, his nose protruding bitterly and his lips pressed together sternly. But perhaps appearances are deceptive. Was it his name gracing the Johann Faber pencil? 

I can imagine a teacher rolling the cylindrical body of the "Berthelt" between his fingers while supervising the pupils bend over their exam papers. As a clock ticked in the silent classroom, he might have had time to doodle on a scrap of paper and observe that the pencil felt like a grade B.  He might have had time to observe that the wood it was made of had got a warm orange hue and was very smooth with no irregularities. And then as he distractedly left the pencil on the desk, the Berthelt in its cylindrical unpredictability might have rolled off and fell on the classroom floor causing the pupils to raise their heads for an instant and the teacher to summon them with a stern look back to work. He might have not stooped himself to pick up the pencil because that would have meant a loss of authority.

All this might have happened well after the Johann Faber company (founded in 1882) was taken over by Faber-Castell in 1931/2 as the remaining stock was sold in A. W. Faber boxes until it was depleted.

The Berthelt's view from the back

Johann Faber "Berthelt" shades of black

The Berthelt's shaving

Wood comparison: Palomino Blackwing - Johann Faber Berthelt - The Dragon pencil - Staedtler Noris - Palomino

1 comment:

  1. Brand Name Pencil's collection is extraordinary. I don't actually know anything about the wood-cased pencil market of a century ago. The distinction between low-end and high-end pencils these days is fairly clear.

    I'm not even sure how pencils were used a century ago. Were they for schoolchildren only? Did people carry pencils in a capped holder? I still use and enjoy wood-cased pencils, but I'm from the era when mechanical pencils were far less reliable than they are today, and graphite had yet to be "polymerized" (I think that's the term).

    (BTW-this is the centenary of the Archduke Ferdinand's assassination by Gavrilo Princip. Your mention of Koh-I-Noor brought that to mind--somehow.) Nice post.